Writing about Reading: The Business

July 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

I picked up Iain Banks’ novel The Business at the local library when they didn’t have his Consider Phlebas in. The first few pages intrigued me, so I checked it out.

Sadly, the first few pages were the best in an otherwise dreadfully boring novel.

Those first pages were part of the prologue of the book. Once I got past it and began the first chapter, I knew I was in trouble. Here’s the opening paragraph in it’s entirety:

My name is Kathryn Telman. I am a senior executive officer, third level (counting from the top) in a commercial organisation which has had many different names through the ages but which, these days, we usually just refer to as the Business. There’s a lot to tell about this particular concern, but I’m going to have to ask you to be tolerant here because I’m intending to take things slowly and furnish further details of this ancient, honourable and — to you, no doubt — surprisingly ubiquitous concern in due course as they become relevant. For the record, I am one point seven metres tall, I weigh fifty-five kilos, I am thirty-eight years old, I have dual British/US nationality, I am blonde by birth not bottle, unwed, and have been an employee of the Business since I left school.

If you’re not already asleep, you at least have a good idea of how incredibly dull this story is going to be. And “for the record,” never introduce a character that way. It’s a rookie mistake that stops the story cold. It’s a puckered seam on something you want to be seamless.

I plodded through another thirty pages, in which some interesting questions were raised. Ultimately, though, the terrible writing was too much for me to take. Not only that, but the woman who seems like such a strong heroine at the outset turns out to be hung up on a married man who is staunchly committed to his wife, and the heroine doesn’t want to take no for an answer. If the situation were reversed, the character would seem like a smarmy sleaze. But since it’s a woman persisting in the harassment, it just comes off as needy, weak, and dumb.

So I’m dumping this book back on the library shelf and not bothering to finish it. Don’t waste your time with this one.

(By the way, it gives me no pleasure to be so critical of another writer’s work, but at least I wasn’t as vicious as this review of 50 Shades of Gray. I dare say the review is far more entertaining than the novel.)

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§ One Response to Writing about Reading: The Business

  • weebookblog says:

    Your points are valid and it is by criticism that we can get far enough away from our writing to hear how it comes across to others (I’m in for it now!). The introductory description above has that police check sound. I like that you also point out what did work…the prologue and interesting questions raised.
    In New Zealand we are mourning the loss of a truly great children’s writer. Margaret Mahy died yesterday.

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